A distressing report on Tuesday outlined devastating wait times for ambulances and hospitals in Britain and underscored the pitfalls of the country’s state-run health care system.
“I was at the point of just begging for an ambulance, and they were distressed listening to me be distressed,” one Welsh woman, Gill Foulkes, told the New York Times. “Our government is letting us down, I am afraid.”
A Timers reporter and photographer rode along with a Welsh ambulance crew, where they described the paramedics repeatedly apologizing to people for delays in getting to them, followed by waiting outside hospitals for rooms and beds to open up for patients. Foulkes, who was dealing with “agonizing back pain” and leg numbness, didn’t see the inside of a hospital until more than 12 hours after she called 9-9-9, the equivalent of 9-1-1 in the United States.
“It’s a near-crisis situation that experts say signals a breakdown of the compact between Britons and their revered National Health Service: That the government will provide responsible, efficient health care services, mostly free, across all income levels,” the Times reported.
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British ambulance services are almost uniformly run by the National Health Service, the United Kingdom’s government-run health care system. There has been a rising number of deaths attributed to delays in responding to emergency calls; one service cited in the report alone said 37 deaths in its area were caused by them, up from just one in 2020.
“Countless harrowing incidents have called attention to the ambulance problem in Britain, including that of an elderly man whose family covered him with a tarp as he waited seven hours after falling outdoors, and a 17-year-old soccer player who waited for four hours lying on a rainy field after suffering a neck injury,” the Times reported.
The story described “excruciatingly long waits in the hospital parking lot” when ambulances arrive, “because patients ready to be discharged from the hospital often have nowhere to go as a result of dwindling social care services.”
The Times reported that the day they shadowed the crew, there were at least 21 calls that paramedics in their response area couldn’t answer because they were stuck waiting. The crew they rode along with only picked up three patients in a 12-hour shift. Helpful bystanders at times have driven people to the hospital instead because they were fed up waiting for an ambulance.
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“It’s frustrating,” paramedic Wayne Jones said. “These people are out in the community and they are desperate.”
Fellow paramedic Rachel Parry said other crews had arrived too late to pick up patients because of the delays.
“I know of a crew that has said, ‘We’ve just been to someone who was waiting four hours for us and they are dead on the sofa,'” she told the Times.
A 79-year-old woman, Ann Taylor, featured in the story waited three hours for an ambulance and another two hours before being allowed inside a hospital.
Ambulance service staff in England and Wales are planning walk-outs this week and next week in protest of low wages and poor work conditions.
Taylor’s husband Frank said he supported the strike.
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“It’s not like it was years ago,” he said. “Years ago, they would come straight away.”